I never used to like dahlias. As a small child I soon learned they harboured earwigs, the sudden sighting of which still sparks pangs of revulsion. But this winter I relented – over the dahlias that is.
For the past few years I had cast envious looks over the fire-coloured rows grown by fellow allotmenteers. Not only did they yield lots of cutting flowers all summer long, but their presence brightened up the allotment for everyone working there.
But next I would think of earwigs, and the slugs that attack leaves and flowers, and the fact you have to lift the tubers in autumn and store them in frost-free conditions. It all seemed too much of a faff.
And then in the dark days of mid-winter, when gardeners are at their most susceptible to images of lush and succulent growth – whether floral or vegetable, I was ambushed by Sarah Raven’s plant catalogue, a little publication that takes horticultural lust to a whole new level. So be warned. Plant lovers open the link at their own risk.
Ms Raven, a one-time medical doctor, now exercises her life-enhancing inclinations by sharing her growing-cooking-flower-arranging aesthetic in print, on screen and on home-run courses. One of her cunning knacks sales-wise is to group the plants in striking or subtle colour-ways. It works. You want them all.
And so it was, I overcame my dahlia resistance, and ordered a few tubers, starting fairly modestly, just to see how we would get along together.
They arrived in January, in perfect condition and with full growing instructions, which I duly followed. For one thing I realised I could make good use of the winter-depleted polytunnel to start the plants off. I also bought a packet of the Sarah Raven dark cosmos seed collection, and I am pleased to say that both cosmos and dahlias are now flowering vigorously outside my polytunnel.
They look so bright and cheery there I am presently rather stingy about cutting them. But when I do, I’m pleased to find I enjoy them twice – both alive and dying when they take on a new kind of beauty.
So in my own Fading Flower Collection we have cosmos Dazzler (top), dahlia Dark Butterfly (bottom left), and dahlia Ripples (bottom right).
But to show you how at least one of them started out, here’s Dark Butterfly in full flight up at the allotment – pleasing lots of small insects, but thankfully earwig free. They, the little ratbag, pincering varmints, have been chewing my cauliflowers instead. It’s the gardener’s way of course: win some; lose some, and then, just now and then, when all goes to plan: win, win, and WIN!
Cee’s Flower of the Day Please visit Cee’s blog. Another great spot for plant lovers.
Back in the autumn I mentioned we had been forced to move a much loved crab apple tree. Her name is Evereste and she is a small tree of the Japanese sort. She was originally planted in the corner of an ugly raised bed and beside some increasingly dangerous garden steps. The bed needed to go, and Graham planned to remodel the steps so we would not break our necks on them in the upcoming years of decrepitude, or after a glass too many of Prosecco out in the garden. Evereste thus had to be relocated to a much nicer spot on our fence boundary, but before that she had to undergo some very serious pruning with the aim of reducing the stress of being moved. She went from being a billowy, branchy tree to a very neat and upright tree.
However, I’m sure she will return to her billowy self in a year or two, and the good news is she is flowering wonderfully NOW. I love crab apple trees. We recently bought a stunning weeping one for my sister’s birthday – Royal Beauty . And it was while I was tracking down suppliers that I learned you could make a hedge using low growing crab apple trees. A hedge that flowers and fruits. How beautiful is that – and how the wildlife would love it. It’s making me think that Evereste might need some company along the garden fence.
We’ve just spent four perfectly sunny days in Bodnant, in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. And anyone who knows Wales, and its propensity for precipitation, will know we were truly blessed. In March too. We even had breakfast outside. Ye gods!
We were staying in a cottage on the Bodnant Estate, which meant an essential visit to the wonderful Bodnant Gardens, owned and managed with much grace by the National Trust.
These tulips were the first things we saw as we stepped into the formal gardens. What show-offs.
There will be more Bodnant photos over the next few days. Here’s a taster, with a view of the Welsh mountains. There was a scattering of snow on the highest peaks, despite the sunshine.
Cee’s Flower of the Day Please pop over to Cee’s for more tulip jubilation.
Enjoy the crocus while we may. After a spell of summer days in March, we’re now promised icy blasts. Climate change, what climate change?
…at least till next year.
I posted the first photo of this oriental poppy last Thursday during a spell of unexpected sunshine, but I’m afraid the weekend’s rainstorms cut her off at the roots. Ah well. She was lovely while she lasted – so bravely out of time and season.
But writing this has just reminded me of what the lovely woman who sold her to me said.
If you cut your oriental poppies down to the ground after they have finished flowering in early summer, you will have a second late blooming.
Somehow I don’t think she meant they would flower in November. But then who knows what to expect these days, the way the seasons are shifting.
Cee’s Flower of the Day Please go visit Cee for more floral pleasures.
Yesterday at the Farrell establishment we had bees in poppies. Today it’s bees in the foxgloves, and thank you to Lynn at Word Shamble for mentioning bees and foxgloves in the comments. This reminded me I’d taken these snaps earlier in the month just before the foxgloves went over. I was trying out my new second-hand Canon Ixus 870 – and oh, the nippy little macro setting – I’m in love with it!
Also please drop in at Lynn’s blog to read a wicked piece of flash fiction: it definitely has a sting in the tale/tail.
Now for more shots of bees. Also just look at the foxglove’s come-hither devices – no ‘Sat Nav Map Error’ here; but an intricate systems of dots and splodges guiding in any would-be pollinator to get pollinating. It looks like every little ‘glove’ has its own touch-pad access code:
I can see why 17th century Dutch merchants worked themselves into a fever over tulip bulbs. The flowers are never static. Even when captured in a vase they change shape and shade throughout the day. I think the colours here complement Cee’s stunning bearded iris, so please visit her at:
April and it’s all change. On Saturday I was whinging about the snow that had invaded our early morning landscape. By Sunday we were sitting coatless on Benthall Hall’s tea room terrace, and consuming carrot cake and hot chocolate with the sun on our faces. It was February when were last there, and grey and stormy, with no possibility of sitting outside. Now we were in danger of overheating with a nice grey hen pootling around our feet, and the air filled with bee-hum. Later, when we ambled around the gardens, we came upon these newly opened rhododendron flowers and a very happy bumble bee. To say it was gorging itself is an understatement. Up to its armpits in pollen it was. Food at last. Bzzzzzzz.
Check in at Cee’s Flower of the Day for more floral displays.
Isn’t nature marvellous. I can’t believe that I grew this bee-eautiful purple-flowered cauli from one very tiny seed. It looks a bit misty here, because it’s covered in fog. They weather has definitely turned here in Shropshire.
I was so excited when I first spotted it a couple of days ago. I’ve been nurturing the cauliflowers for a long time, feeding them liquid seaweed feed among other things. The seeds were sown in spring, then planted out in early summer in my new plot behind the polytunnel.
It was hard going too, clearing the ground for them. It had not been cultivated for several seasons and was choked with dandelions of epic proportions, and masses of creeping buttercups. The soil was heavy and claggy too. It seemed most unpromising, although I know that brassicas are fairly tolerant of these kind of conditions. For one thing, they like to be solidly rooted. In fact I’ve learned that caulis won’t flower properly if they are not well anchored from the start.
Once I’d planted out the young plants, (along with a handful each of Carbon Gold fertilzer, and worm casts, and an encircling of lime), I had to make sure they were well defended with a covering of mesh. This to stem the pigeon decimation that generally goes on at the allotment. The rotters line up on the overhead electricity cables and watch what we humans are up to, and plan their raids for when we’re not there.
Anyhow, they didn’t get this cauli, and we did. I steamed it, and then made a quick sauce with creme fraiche. Here’s what I did.
Really Amazingly Quick Cauliflower Cheese
- Break the cauliflower into florets and steam for a few minutes.
- Drain, reserving a cup of the steaming water in case you might need it.
- Melt a small piece of butter in the now empty pan.
- Add some chopped garlic and/or sliced onion. Cook until soft and translucent.
- On a moderate heat, stir in a small tub of creme fraiche. Stir it until it warms through. If it seems too thick, add a little of the reserved vegetable water, say a tablespoon at a time.
- Season, and add any fresh chopped herbs of choice.
- Stir in a couple of handfuls of grated hard cheese. I use pandano.
- Then toss the cauliflower in the sauce and serve.
- Any other quickly steamed vegetables can be included in this – peas, carrot sticks, chopped kale, chard, leeks, celery. Whatever appeals. Good served with a jacket potato, or Italian black rice.
So here you have MY flower of the day, as inspired by Cee’s Flower of the Day. I thought maybe we should give vegetables a look-in on the floral display front. Mind you, I don’t know what Cee will think. Aw, she’ll love it.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell